From the fun-loving Cannon Films sidekick to a rising action star, Steve James changed the face of ultimate action!
It was on December 18th, 1993 when actor Steve James died of pancreatic cancer. James was actor, comedian, writer and martial artist. His legacy is often forgotten but just as important as Wesley Snipes and Fred Williamson. He was only 41 years old when he passed away too soon. Sidney Poitier spoke at his funeral. James was taken too soon. His status as an action icon diminished by his untimely death.
Steve James Action Actor Extraordinaire
After graduating from C.W. Post College with a major in Arts and Film he began working as a performer and manager at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport Theater. In 1975 he acted in the musical revue Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,”in Louisville, Kentucky. He soon found his way into various commercials before the bright lights of Hollywood cast their eyes on him.
James’ road to fame began with work as a stuntman in films like Ghostbusters, The Wiz, and The Warriors. His breakout role was as Robert Ginty’s best friend in the vigilante film The Exterminator. His most memorable role was Curtis Jackson in the American Ninja franchise from Cannon Films. James walks away from the first film with quite possibly the most iconic line from the entire series “Well according to witnesses testimony and evidence, this massacre was the work of ninjas.” Only an actor of James’ skill and fortitude could ever hope to say that line with a straight face.
From American Ninja to Kung Fu Joe
Pure comedy was something that James would often explore with equally successful results as his action films. James performance in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, as Kung Fu Joe will always be the first thing anyone talks about when they remember the movie. Kung Fu Joe is a brilliant send-up of every kind of a kung fu action hero since the beginning of cinema.
James was astute practitioner of tiger claw kung fu, James was often more talented and more charismatic than any of his co-stars. His talents were, on occasion, lifted to that of the lead role. In 1989 he starred in the film Riverbend, as unfairly disgraced army major who fights back with his men against a white sheriff terrorizing the local black population in Georgia. He also helped write and would star in the 1990 film Street Hunter. Despite being the hero and leading man, the film’s poster puts the villain in the spotlight.
An Action Star Lost Too Soon
Steve James may not be remembered as the greatest action star of all time but his enduring legacy is still felt today. He pushed himself to be more than a sidekick, never afraid to outshine his co-stars and towards the end of the 1980s he found a way to lead movies and anchor television shows. Steve James deserves to be remembered as unheralded pioneer working to break the mold of exploitation films and into a stratosphere all his own.